The municipality uses social to keep the communities it serves connected, with the information and services they need
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) covers a geographically vast area of northern Alberta, Canada. Home to the country’s largest oil sands deposits, the region is commonly referred to as the economic engine of Canada. Each year, the area attracts new residents and seasonal workers.
The municipality faces unique challenges, with widely dispersed communities in an area that experiences severe weather conditions and fluctuating population levels. Social media is helping the RMWB share information and engage with its diverse, new, and long-term residents across the region.
The municipality uses social channels to deliver news, provide emergency updates, and ensure community members keep up-to-date on the services and programs that keep the region moving. Hootsuite enables the RMWB to better direct its communication resources, deliver timely updates across platforms, analyze social media sentiment, ensure a consistent voice, and stay on top of comments and questions about services.
The RMWB, like most government organizations, has been using social media for years, but it has built a following that is considerably larger than similar sized municipalities. It was crisis communications that evolved and strengthened its social presence and strategy. During the 2016 wildfire season, the Horse River Wildfire caused the evacuation of 88,000 community members and destroyed more than 2,500 homes. Then in 2020, an ice jam caused overland flooding, leading to the evacuation of approximately 12,000 residents and damaging more than 2,000 structures in the downtown core. As the emergencies unfolded, Hootsuite helped the RMWB manage the fast-moving situations with a coordinated presence across multiple social media accounts, keeping communities safe and updated on the latest developments.
Not only did the RMWB’s response build new social followers and trust, but it also demonstrated how communicating via social media could help the municipality reach new audiences and create higher levels of community engagement.
The importance and effectiveness of social media is evident during crisis communications, and this has led to ongoing support from elected officials and senior leaders for a strong social presence and strategy. The municipality continues to rely heavily on social media to share updates and information about regular services, programs, and projects.
Social works for the RMWB because there is strong support internally and audiences prefer to receive news and engage with the municipality on their favorite social media platform. A key success factor has been the organization’s ability to share timely, relevant information about essential services and a wide range of programs across a very large area. To keep up with everything happening, the RMWB Communications and Engagement team has established a client model to provide communication support to the different areas in the organization.
Today, there are 13 different service departments at the RMWB and each one is supported by a communications strategist who works alongside the social media advisor. This ensures the information from each department is vetted by a communications specialist and strategic communication plans are developed to align with organizational priorities, values, and other municipal updates. The strategists and social media advisor use the Hootsuite tools to collaborate and ensure a consistent social media strategy and voice.
“There is a lot happening in our region and that means there are always lots of important municipal updates to share,” explains Jennie Walker, RMWB social media advisor. “It’s critical that every department can share timely information on our social media platforms, but it’s also important that we work together to plan messaging, content, and ensure a consistent social strategy. The client model allows us to do this.”
This is reflected in the RMWB’s ‘social media maturity’ score, a Hootsuite assessment of how social media supports business outcomes. To date, Hootsuite has conducted more than 1,000 assessments of enterprises and government bodies. The RMWB’s social media maturity is remarkably high, especially among government organizations, where getting sufficient resources and education to use social media effectively can be challenging. The client model the municipality has established, with strategists working closely with subject matter experts from each service department, to align social campaigns to organizational goals, sets the organization ahead in its industry.
Hootsuite allows the RMWB to focus its communications efforts through the most effective channels.
“People want to receive municipal news through the platform of their choice—they don’t want to go searching for it online, especially for time-sensitive information,” says Dylan Corbett, RMWB strategic communications supervisor. “For us, that means using Facebook and Twitter to share most updates.”
Between 2015 and 2020, traffic, content, and engagement are up across the board. Facebook followers increased 263% to 27,000; Twitter followers are up 311%, with 26,000; and Twitter engagements are also up by 263%. Overall, the RMWB has seen more than 500% growth in activity across all social channels and has posted more than 7,600 updates to its Facebook channel during this period.
“Our most engaging campaigns are driven through social media,” says Walker. “Social creates opportunities to connect with citizens and gives us a pulse on the local community.”
Many of the RMWB citizens continue to prefer receiving news through traditional channels. The municipality uses radio, print, and local newsletters, but the communities the RMWB serves are discovering that social is where news happens first—and that many people have an opinion on that news.
“People are certainly more informed and engaged,” says Corbett. “It’s great to see community members getting involved and keeping up with everything happening in their neighborhood.”
If there is a downside to this, it would be that misinformation spreads easier. Hootsuite Analytics reports enable the RMWB to track keywords and hashtags and keep an eye on conversations.
“We don’t enter a debate on a private social channel, but we do identify an opportunity to correct false information through our official channels,” says Walker. “Most of the time it’s not malicious; it’s just an information gap.”
“We depend on Hootsuite 100% for our day-to-day social media activity. It allows us to schedule content, track comments, and create meaningful analytics.”
Keeping citizens informed is a critical step in improving service delivery and this is where social media proves its value every day. But it’s not only the municipality sharing important information, as emerging issues or challenges with a program are often first identified on social by citizens. Hootsuite allows the RMWB to easily monitor social media activity across various platforms and the client model in place, allowing the communications team to quickly connect with subject matter experts to respond to the situation.
Improving service delivery and efficiency is accomplished when there are clear goals and objectives set, which is why every RMWB strategic communication plan includes objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART). The plans include operational objectives, like the number of applications received, and social media objectives, such as impressions, reach, link clicks, and engagement. All goals and objectives are reviewed and adjusted annually, with the Hootsuite tagging tool allowing the RMWB to quickly evaluate each social campaign.
“As an organization, we are committed to continuously improving service delivery and setting SMART objectives for each communication campaign is a key component,” says Corbett. “We evaluate the success of every campaign and use these metrics to make adjustments to strengthen plans and improve service delivery.”
While a strong social media strategy is in place, the team has been exploring new or different content ideas to grow their audience and compete with non-government organizations for people’s attention. The team is also planning to build an advocacy program, recognizing the influence of individuals both inside and outside the organization.
“We want to explore how best to empower employees and members of the community to help get information out,” says Walker. “We know there are a lot of employees who are skilled in social media. The challenge is to provide them with accurate and consistent information. Hootsuite will help us train and support these individuals.”